This is the story of my journey to be a farmer, to make a living at farming, to create food security for myself, my family, and my community. To grow good food that is good for our bodies and our soul.I was born a suburban kid growing up during the 60's and 70's in a typical upper middle class American household. My father, 1st generation American finding his way in the work force as a salesman/marketing manager with an up and coming pharmaceutical company. He truly did believe, "better life through chemicals".
Fast forward to 2010, I am 51years old, I work as a Lighting Technician and have done so for the past 30 years. I have a beautiful wife, three gorgeous daughters and 5 acres of Agricultural Land Reserve. Now I want to be an organic chicken farmer, go figure.
I have been asked to write this article documenting my journey to farm organic chickens. I have very little experience. I have great hurdles to jump through. The government, the chicken mafia, the health board and the agricultural board really don't seem to want small farmers to succeed. The one thing on my side is the fact that I have a market to sell my chickens. Everyday it seems we are being educated in the news, in books and movies on how our industrial food system is killing us. Every time we have a meat recall, organic sales go up. Obesity and diabetes are at epidemic proportions. People want to know where their food is coming from.
So with all that said, here I go to document my journey.
Why do I want to farm meat? For me it is simple. It seems to be the area that is the most troubling for me when I go to the store. I have lost faith in most meat from the store. I have been educating myself of recent and I don't like what I learn. Watching "Food inc",and "Super Size Me" for instance have truly taught me where the status quo meat comes from. Reading books like, "Animal Vegetable Miracle", "Omnivore's Dilemma", and understanding the term, CAFO, "concentrated agricultural feed operation", makes me want to put the owners of such operations in the cows, pigs, and chickens places. We are not treating our food with respect. I want to feel honest when I worship every bite that goes into my mouth. I feel full on manipulated by the food industry. That is why I want to farm meat.
I started this journey over 20 years ago, but seriously around 4 months ago. Since then I have been educating myself on what is the list, and the list goes something like this. Grow chickens, Process chickens, sell chickens. Seems fairly simple at first glance.
Growing chickens- I have 3 acres of pasture. I want to pasture raise my birds. This means that for most of their lives they are eating grass, bugs, walking on clean earth, breathing clean air, feeling the sun, and generally having a great life. A chickens life for meat is around 2.5 months long. It's not really very long is it? For such a short time I want the chickens smiling every day. This is not the standard industry version.
Before I grow more than my family can eat though I need to go to the BC Chicken Marketing Board and request a quota. This quota allows you to grow x amount of chicken per year. With this quota # I now can take my chickens to the processor and have them done up by a certified slaughter house. I now can sell them to the general public. So this is not an open market. It is hugely controlled. What the market can bear is totally up to the marketing board, or as I like to call them, the chicken mafia. They do seem to be realizing though that the market is shifting drastically and organics is rising by 20% every year
Processing- As I mentioned before I need a quota to get my birds processed. At the present there is not a processing facility on the coast. I will at present need to take my birds to Abbotsford. This involves a ferry boat, 200km travel, several days off work, lots of fuel, a truck, cages to transport the chickens in, and generally not at all being eco-friendly in the pursuit of clean meat. Here on the coast we are not set up really for agriculture. We have 2-3 days of groceries if the ferry stops. The goal would be to create either a building that processes foul or a portable abattoir that would go from farm to farm and process the birds.
Now to get an abattoir on the coast is hugely beaurocratic . We could be elligable for some funding but at present we are not elligible. So first, the line of elligibility would need to be moved. That involves a whole lot of people, and to be honest I am not totally sure how many, but I shudder to think.
I will leave the processing conversation alone for now. The bottom line is that the whole community will need to want such a thing to occur.
Selling- Easy peasy. I will start smaller and build my market. I would prefer to sell direct to the customer. The grocery has offered to take all I have once they are legal. The problem with that is simply they want 30%.
In a nut shell. A processing facility is key to food security on the coast. Myself and other farmers could potentially provide all the foul required by this coast. The numbers are huge if you do the math. There are 30,000 people from Gibsons to Egmont . If each person eats 4 chickens per year that is 120,000 chickens. Now in saying that we are not counting the veg heads, but I certainly eat more than 4 chickens per year.